Twin Peaks Without David Lynch Might Still Be Pretty Good (But Give Him Everything He Wants Anyway)

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the original air date of the Twin Peaks pilot. This is a huge deal, both in the context of the show itself, and in the real life influence of the series on television and pop culture in general. Twin Peaks undeniably changed television forever, and changed it unlike any other groundbreaking series.

It is about the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” but grows into something much deeper and poignant than that. It is a surreal work of elegant Americana, flawed but beautiful. Once someone asked me what my biggest geek obsession was, and without hesitating the words “Twin Peaks” left my mouth. I hadn’t ever considered that before then, but it felt right. Since then, I think fascination over it has only grown.

Part of what hooked me originally was the hero, Dale Cooper, and his wise optimism when facing unspeakable darkness. David Lynch is surely capable of pulling off some disturbing imagery, but the show always portrayed horror through the lens of Cooper, which dangled hope in front of us even when staring down the toothy gaze of Killer BOB.

Try going to sleep after watching that.

Now that television is in its renaissance, nearly every show has creative roots in Twin Peaks, as showrunners and TV writers are all basically trying to recreate the magic formula the David Lynch and Mark Frost stumbled upon in the early ‘90s. I make a point to include Frost because it seems like he’s left out of too many Peaks-related discussions. Especially considering the sometimes larger-than-life creative personality of David Lynch. But Lynch is an artist, truly, and brings with him some inherent flaws that alone would have made Twin Peaks impossible. He’s temperamental, unfocused, incoherent—all the marks of a real visionary. But Frost managed to reign in Lynch’s surreal images and disjointed storytelling and form it into a reasonably easy to digest drama.

I bring this up because this anniversary is marred by Lynch’s recent announcement that the Showtime-produced third season of Twin Peaks might have to go on without him, due to contract negotiations. Immediately fans of the show rallied behind the filmmaker to #SaveTwinPeaks, followed quickly by the residents of Twin Peaks themselves. They have a point. The core of Twin Peaks is trademark Lynch, a dreamy exploration of the seething underbelly of American suburbia.

Last month, Lynch hinted that he wasn’t sure how involved he would be in the new project, and I thought (after the initial mournful gasp) that it was a perfectly executed negotiating tactic. I still think that’s what’s going on now, even moreso that he’s flat out admitted this is all about the money. I honestly hope it works out, because returning to Twin Peaks without David Lynch would be bittersweet. But it might not be a disaster. In fact, it could still be amazing.

I think Twin Peaks’ fans should consider that maybe the new series will be fine without Lynch. There are plenty of good writers and directors influenced by Lynch’s style to complete his vision, and plenty of reboots were disasters in the hands of their original creators (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) while passing the torch worked far better in other cases (Battlestar Galactica,  Star Trek: The Next Generation). Not to mention, Mark Frost is still on board, and to me, that’s just as good. I don’t want to say Twin Peaks would be better without Lynch–but I think everyone can agree that Star Wars would have been better if Lucas kept his role minimal during the prequels.

Don’t get me wrong. I want David Lynch on board, and he’s much more capable and self aware than Lucas. But I also want new Twin Peaks episodes, even if he can’t work things out. Yes, some of Twin Peaks’ best moments had Lynch at the helm, but he left the series fairly early in the second season, around the time the network pressured the creators to reveal the killer—a move that proved to undo the plot in a way that spiraled Twin Peaks into cancellation. That wasn’t really anyone’s fault, though. And when David Lynch did revive Twin Peak for a feature film, it wasn’t nearly as consistent as the series at its best. I do love Fire Walk With Me, especially because it really gives Sheryl Lee a chance to portray a three-dimensional version of Laura Palmer. The film is remarkable for her performance alone, especially considering she was originally hired solely to play a dead girl on a beach. It is, however, a perfect example of Lynch without restraint. Which brings me back to everything I love about the work of David Lynch—it is cerebral, but arty, and often lacks a coherent narrative. That works just fine in an insular work like Eraserhead or Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks, on the other hand, relies on a focused plotline that uses Lynch’s trademark strobelit performance art with subtlety. David Lynch is a visionary, but television needs more structure than that. It needs to hold together and keep at least one toe on the ground so audiences can come back and know what they’re getting into.

There is something uniquely Lynchian about the whole debacle, though. The series was born out of a writers strike, otherwise no network in their right mind would have aired something so edgy on prime time. Behind-the-scenes controversies pushed and pulled the series in all sorts of directions, and now the new series is starting off with the same kind of production struggles. If anything, it gives me hope that whatever direction Twin Peaks is headed, it’s the right one.

If you liked this blog, check these out:

  • Twin Peaks, of course. It’s on Netflix, and yes, it is worth all the hype
  • Blue Velvet – one of Lynch’s best films, and also stars Kyle McClachlan
  • Beach House “Bloom” This whole album sounds like Twin Peaks, which is pretty cool. They even got Leland Palmer for one of their videos.

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Cody Ray Shafer

Cody is a writer and media critic living in Salt Lake City, Utah. When he's not writing he plays guitar and sings with his wife Sara Beth. They have one son, Oliver, and pug, Hugo.

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